Guests dine on historic recipes

Interpreters participate in a Hearthside Supper evening. (Submitted photo)
Interpreters participate in a Hearthside Supper evening. (Submitted photo)

By Beth Taylor

Using recipes from 19th-century cookbooks, authentic meals are recreated for Conner Prairie’s Hearthside Suppers program. What started as a weekend program in 1984 has grown to 46 select dates offered through Mar. 22.

Each evening is hosted by historical interpreters who lead guests down a wooded path to the historic 1823 William Conner home. After the often chilly walk, guests are warmed up with hot cider and appetizers.

In the Conner kitchen, activity centers around the hearth. Interpreters interact with the guests, creating lively conversation about 19th-century food preparation, cooking techniques and proper etiquette. The cooks have most of the meal prepared, but guests help with meal preparation by churning butter, grinding coffee, preparing vegetables and making bread before enjoying a candlelit dinner.

“Many guests are expecting bland-tasting food, but we use many of the same herbs and spices today—dill, thyme and cayenne,” said Michelle Evans, the program manager. “Sometimes we have to back off from the spices. Many of the recipes are taken from enslaved cooks in the South and are spicier than guests might be used to.”

The three-course meal lasts three hours. “The time passes quickly. Guests comment that they do feel as though they’ve stepped back in time,” she said.

After the meal, guests adjourn to the Conner house’s parlor for entertainment and fellowship. “After playing historic games for a while, someone pops in to say that dessert is on the table,” Evans said.

“We look for recipes that taste great and also have visual appeal,” said Evans. She learned the importance of visual appeal when recreating an apple dessert a few years ago. “It was supposed to be Louisa May Alcott’s favorite dessert. It tasted great but was not pretty to look at. We haven’t done it since,” she said.

Hearthside Suppers are recommended for guests ages 10 and older. Groups of up to 12 are welcome. Cost is $65 for adults, $60 for adult Conner Prairie members, $60 for youth and $55 for youth members. Each Hearthside Suppers event begins at 6 p.m. To register, visit or call Guest Services at 776-6000.